Tech City Takeover? Planning Could Crush Silicon Roundabout
Recent proposals by the Government to solve London’s housing crisis could have the unfortunate side effect of pushing out start-up firms from the East London area known as Tech City.
After two years of grabbing headlines for creating jobs, kick-starting innovative new companies and attracting the attention of many of the world’s largest technology corporations, Tech City has finally found its feet. Its inhabitants are looking to the future; one where the Silicon Roundabout (a tongue-in-cheek alias) will actually be able to rival the status of California’s Silicon Valley.
Unfortunately, the current proposals made by Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles, could stop Tech City’s growth in its tracks and potentially undo much of the good work it has begun in putting East London on the entrepreneurial map.
The planning changes would allow property developers to simply convert office blocks into apartments without applying for planning permission. The proposal’s creators hope that this will spawn a new wave of affordable housing in areas of the capital where first-time buyers have as much chance of getting on the property ladder as they do of finding a seat on the tube during rush hour!
The issue for Tech City is that this will impinge on the already tight rental rates in the area, creating extra difficulties for businesses trying to establish themselves there. However, the start-up owners, whizz-kid innovators and next generation entrepreneurs aren’t taking the looming prospect of being edged out lying down. There is currently a petition circulating that implores Eric Pickles to exempt the Hackney borough from the new planning laws.
The borough’s council itself has also applied for exemption, in case the petition and awareness campaign should fail to change the mind of the Right Honourable MP Pickles. Jules Pipe, Hackney’s elected Mayor responded to the proposal leaving nobody in any doubt what her feelings on the matter were:
“Hackney is a borough of entrepreneurs. This misguided policy could stop growth in its tracks and risk turning the borough into a dormitory village full of luxury apartments that do nothing to tackle the affordable housing crisis.”
Slowing the growth of Tech City remains the principal fear of many interested parties like Mayor Pipe as well as outside observers. For the last two years, companies such as Gumtree and The IT Job Board have experienced a marked increase in the number of IT and Tech jobs being advertised by companies that have set up shop in Tech City. The ability of this unique London technology hub to attract new ideas, new capital and new opportunities cannot be ignored.
Fortunately, Tech City does have a number of powerful individuals and organisations to champion its cause. Most recently, the area received the Royal Family’s seal of approval as Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, gave it his personal endorsement after making a Royal visit earlier this month. The prince expressed his enthusiasm about boosting the area as a high-tech cluster of entrepreneurial excellence. He said that it was feasible to think about businesses on the scale of Google or Amazon emerging from the area.
With any luck, an agreement can be reached on how best to let Tech City continue to be fertile ground for new businesses and ideas.
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